Dutch Ambassador Campaigns for Resurrection of New Orleans

Visiting the storm-devastated city with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, Ambassador Boudewijn van Eenennaam said that what he saw was, 'shocking' and 'unbelievable.' But, according to this article from de Volkskrant of The Netherlands, the Dutch have faced and overcome just such a disaster before, and so can the people of the United States as long as the necessary funds are expended.

By Diederik van Hoogstraten

Translation by Iris Reijnen

November 28, 2005

Original Article (Dutch)

NEW ORLEANS: The Dutch ambassador visited New Orleans "as an old friend," with words of advice and comfort. "Don't give up," is his message.

Boudewijn van Eenennaam chokes-up. "It is shocking," he mumbles, "unbelievable." The Dutch ambassador in the United States visits New Orleans. In the St. Bernard suburb he finds himself surrounded by debris and mud. Houses are half swept away. Cars are upside down. The stench of fungus is unbearable. Three months after Hurricane Katrina passed by, there is no sign of life.

He looks into a house without a front door and takes in the complete, rotting devastation. "You have to see this for yourself; images on TV can't convey what has happened here. People have lost their identity. Everything."

The bus tour he takes with Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is emotional. The destruction and misery in large parts of New Orleans is still overwhelming. But Van Eenennaam has come with a positive message: rebuilding New Orleans is possible. Protection against and management of the water is possible. Don't give up. That's what the ambassador wants to tell New Orleans, and that's what he keeps repeating like a mantra, when he visits the city. We have done it too.

Landrieu has invited Van Eenennaam. In Washington she is fighting for attention, legislation and money. And she fights "Katrina-saturation." Without widespread federal aid and some sort of agreement in Washington on a "delta-plan," [a construction plan similar to what the Dutch have built in the south of the Netherlands to keep the water at bay], is impossible in southern Louisiana. And Katrina made clear that a large part of the region is unsafe to live in without a comprehensive plan.


Ambassador van Eenennaam Takes in the Devastation

So the Senator has asked the Dutch for help to once again shine the spotlight at the immense problems her home state is facing. "The ambassador shares our hope for the future," says Landrieu, whose brothers and sisters also lost their homes. "The 1953 disaster in the Netherlands [when a large part of the South of Holland was flooded after a storm] is similar to what we've been through. There is a lesson to be learned: don't retreat, don't give up; the Dutch didn't either."

At dinner, Van Eenennaam offers a speech before local business people and politicians. First of all, unlike many of the people that were hit by Katrina, he is convinced: "The city will be rebuilt." Even better, he predicts "reconstruction, restoration, renaissance and renovation," just like the Netherlands experienced after their 1953 disaster.

The ambassador tells how the Netherlands was the first to acknowledge the United States in 1776. How Dutch banks financed the 1803 "Louisiana Purchase" from France. In other words, Van Eenennaam is visiting "as an old friend."

From a technological standpoint, Louisiana, with its dikes, beaches, rivers and harbors, could learn a lot from the Netherlands. "Excuse me if I sound arrogant," he says, "but we are the best when it comes to water-management." And on an economic level, a multimillion-dollar investment against water threats is worth it, according to Van Eenennaam's calculations. A comprehensive plan can also lead to political consensus and cooperation. He succeeds in conveying the idea of a collective force in the battle against the water. "That is something that appeals to me," says Landrieu.

Van Eenennaam wants to show "hope and compassion" to the people he is addressing. He is a listener, someone who can make you feel better by just looking at you. When asked what he really thinks about the condition New Orleans is in right now, he answers with an understatement: "They have a long way to go."

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